Gov. Rick Perry has released a jobs plan. Or is it an energy plan? Or it is an EPA-reform plan? Or is it a trade-deficit plan? The plan is a bit of each, and it is a very good one.
Governor Perry, under whom Texas enjoyed the strongest job-creation record of any large U.S. state, proposes to open up oil and gas production in areas in which American producers are either shut out or heavily restricted: the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida coast, and Alaska, among others. Perry’s plan also entails the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the liberalization of regulations hindering production in throughout the United States. Governor Perry estimates that U.S. oil and gas production could be expanded by some 9.3 million barrels of oil per day and 22.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas, creating more than 1 million new energy-industry jobs.
Politicians give a hostage to fate when they predict that their programs will predict a certain minimum level of new jobs. While expanding energy production in the United States would certainly create many new employment opportunities, the Perry plan would be well worth pursuing if it did not create a single new job. That is because jobs are a means, not an end; the goal of public policy should be to make the nation wealthier and its economy more productive, not to micromanage the economy. A country producing 9.3 million new barrels of oil per day and billions of cubic feet of additional natural gas is a wealthier nation and a more productive one. The job market will reflect that fact.
Governor Perry is of course well positioned to appreciate the growth potential of the energy industry: He has seen it at work. Mitt Romney, attempting to downplay Governor Perry’s job-creation record, scoffed that Texas is an unusual case: “Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground,” he said, and compared Governor Perry’s claiming some credit for the Texas economic boom to Al Gore’s claim to have created the Internet. But Texas isn’t the only state with a lot of oil in the ground. It may be true that the whole country can’t have a Texas-style energy economy, but Louisiana can, and so can Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, the Carolinas, Colorado and a few other western states, Alaska, and more. And the states that do not have much energy potential have potential of other kinds lying untapped. The question is not how much oil is in the ground, but whether Americans will be allowed to develop our resources. And it is in that regard that Governor Perry’s plan speaks to what is actually holding back the American economy and what Washington can realistically do about it.
Governor Perry argues that much of his agenda could be accomplished without going through Congress. That would mean a lot of executive orders and some arm-twisting of governors and state legislatures. That’s a lot of unilateral executive action, but then, there’s been a lot of unilateral executive action suffocating the energy industry. Before the election of Barack Obama, there were on average 130 drilling-plan approvals issued by the federal government each year; in the Obama era, there has been an average of 30 approvals each year. Before Obama, there were an average of 545 Gulf of Mexico permits issued annually; under Obama, that average has been 203. Cutting the number of permits and approvals by 50 percent or 75 percent has predictable results; so would reversing that trend. Likewise, aggressive new EPA action has come largely out of executive initiative, not as a result of new legislation passed by Congress. Perry’s plan would cut the EPA budget by a punitive 60 percent, suspend the implementation of new regulations, and require the agency to conduct a rigorous cost-benefit analysis for new regulations.
While the Obama administration and Mr. Romney have made much out of our trade relations with China, and particularly out of Beijing’s monetary policy, the often overlooked fact is that more than half of our trade deficit comes from oil imports. While we are out of sympathy with those who demonize international trade — in oil or in any other legitimate commodity — there is no compelling reason for the federal government to actively hinder American energy production. Green panic and wishful thinking about solar power are not a substitute for making the most out of what we have. A country cannot expect prosperity if it cannot use its resources, whether those are human, financial, or natural. Governor Perry’s plan speaks to the lattermost of these, but the approach works for all of them: Get government out of the way and let prosperity emerge. We hope that his plan presages a new direction for the heretofore lackluster Perry campaign. These are ideas that deserve to advance to Washington, regardless of whether Rick Perry does.